Over the course of the weekend of its recent opening, the Pixar film “Brave” amassed a total of $66.7 million at the box office, which made it the number one film. “Brave” represents the thirteenth feature film from the studio that revolutionized animated cinema. It’s hard not to notice that there has been a conspicuous absence of hand drawn animated films to reach the multiplex since the mid-90s, the time that Pixar started to make computer animated marvels such as “Toy Story.”
The 2002 Disney film “Treasure Planet” was Disney’s last breath attempt at keeping the hand drawn art form alive; it was a undisputed box office failure. Pixar has never had one of those. Of the thirteen films the studio has released, thirteen of them have debuted at number one at the box office, and twelve of them have crossed $150 million mark (the lone exception is the aforementioned and recently released “Brave,” which will most certainly continue the trend). So how is it that Pixar has such a perfect batting average?
Frankly, the answer is so easy that you really don’t have to be a film industry analyst/journalist to know it: It’s because Pixar consistently delivers the best films in the market. With only a couple of exceptions (yes, “Cars 2” is one of them), Pixar films are not only highly ranked at year end box office statistics, but also on critics’ top ten lists. Speaking of lists, here is my list of the five best films the studio has released in its history.
5. Toy Story
Cover via Amazon
The film that started it all. Back in 1995, audiences found themselves delighted by this moving and uproarious tale about toys that come to life when their prepubescent owner is not around. The leader of the gang, a cowboy toy named Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), is threatened when the child is gifted a flashier toy, the astronaut Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). The two are quickly put in a bind, and must figure out a way to co-exist, for their owner’s sake. This one set the tone for future Pixar films, establishing a brand that would produce films that would be immaculately animated, marvelously witty and entertaining for audience members of any age. This classic has been followed by two exceptional sequels (a rare phrase in Hollywood), which demonstrates just how skilled the geniuses at Pixar are at conjuring characters we look forward to spending time with.
In 2008, Pixar released its most daring and adventurous film to date. “WALL-E” is about a robot that is left alone on earth for 700 some odd years, after the humans have abandoned the vast wasteland the planet became. The robot, known as WALL-E, finds love in another robot named EVE, who has been sent back to earth from the human’s spaceship refuge to find food. Much to his peril, WALL-E follows her. Some audience members were tested by the interesting directorial touches, such as the dialogue free opening sequence. Those who were patient were rewarded by a gorgeously drawn, richly romantic tale that is equal parts hilarious and thought-provoking. Not only does this Andrew Stanton film serve as a reminder of the power of love, but also the power of the imagination and the importance of our environment.
Cover of Ratatouille [Blu-ray]
Brad Bird’s 2007 film, about a rat who dreams of becoming a chef and haphazardly fulfills this dream with the help of numbskull garbage boy at a top Parisian restaurant, freaked out a lot of murophobes such as myself. Rats in the kitchen?! Disgusting! But once I overlooked this repulsive notion, it was hard not to be taken in by Bird’s lovely and luminous film. Certain slapstick sequences here rival setpieces found in the works of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. The film’s message about overcoming adversity despite your limitations is as ever inspiring, and this film features one of the great voiceover performances in the studio’s history, that of legendary actor Peter O’Toole as Anton Ego, a curmudgeonly food critic. It’s stunning to think that Brad Bird was a hired to replace the previous writer/director on this project; he seamlessly transforms it into his own seminal work.2. Up
Much has been made of the opening ten minutes of this 2009 masterpiece, which summates the long and happy marriage of an offbeat couple. It’s more romantic than the entirety of any “romantic comedy” Katherine Heigl has starred in recently. Even after that opening sequence though, this imaginative tale about a widowed old man who attempts to fly to South America in his house via the use of a large amount of balloons, keeps us enthralled. This is possibly the studio’s most potent tearjerker, a bold claim I know, but it’s hard not to well up at this ode to the bonds we make in life, familial or not. Michael Giacchino’s delicate music certainly helps things along. And Doug, the talking dog, is quite possibly the studio’s most heartwarming and adorable creation to date.
Cover of Finding Nemo
1. Finding Nemo
Adjusted for inflation, this is the most lucrative film in Pixar’s history. Guess what? It’s also the best. Andrew Stanton’s remarkable film, about a clownfish embarked on a hopeless search for his long lost son, presents the most vivid animation the studio has ever put together. The underwater sequences look startlingly real. Apart from that, the hilarity here cannot possibly be contained. Ellen Degeneres is at her best, delivering superlative voiceover work as Dory, a lackadaisical fish that follows the clownfish (voiced by Albert Brooks, also sensational) on his journey. Stanton’s tale is stock full of surprises, sparkling one-liners and a lot of heart. Very few films create such a realistic father-son relationship as this one, and Stanton utilized fish to do so. Is there anything this studio can’t do?
Has Pixar had its missteps? Undoubtedly. The “Cars” films, while solid, were nothing spectacular. And the reviews for “Brave” have been comparatively lackluster. But when the preceding product is of this quality, it’s near impossible to match.